40 Before 40: Challenge #29 – update

15 Feb

I’ve been busy reading more books from The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. Here are the latest books that I’ve read.

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

This was a strange book. I don’t know what sort of genre it was – it was a mixture of fantasy and historical. It also incorporates The Twelve Dancing Princesses which is a commentary about women’s role in society. I found the book very surreal. If the book had have been much longer, I am not sure that I would have stuck out reading it until the end.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The story is set after the American Civil War and tells the story of a woman who murders her daughter. When a mysterious woman returns, she is convinced this is the ghost of the child that she murdered. The book is hard to understand at first because it flips between different time periods, so you do have to concentrate to know where the part of the story relates to.

When I realised that this was essentially a ghost story, I wasn’t convinced that I would like the story. But the story is very intriguing. How the ghost affects the family and the mother in particular is interesting.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

By far the worst part of this book is seeing the dates that the diary entries were made knowing that the hope of them being free isn’t going to happen. The contrast between the musings of a teenage girl (complaining about classmates etc) and the description of the harsh conditions is mind blowing.

The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende

Four generations story. set in Chile. It’s an incredible read. It was super easy to read even though the book was almost 500 pages long but it was incredibly tragic as well as very funny at the same time. It is for books like this that I wanted to do this challenge; to discover new authors and great works of literature that I wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to read. I would easily say that this is in the Top 5 of my favourite books. There is pretty stiff competition with the amount of books that I have read so that is high praise indeed.

This was a joy to read. It’s the story of four generations of an eccentric family in Chile and charts the tragedy, hilarity and surreality of their lives in an ever-changing world. One minute I was laughing out loud, the next silent in shock at the events that were unfolding in the story. I would go as far to say that this was one of my favourite books that I have ever read. This was another long read but I doubt it will be long before I am re-reading it once again.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

This was an incredibly long book. Whenever I was thinking that there was no way that the books could continue for much longer, there was a plot twist and I was completely engrossed in the story again.

This was a long book (my edition was 884 pages long) but was a great read. Set during the American Civil War, it is essentially a story of love and loss, focused on the main character Scarlett O’Hara. Throughout the book, I was wondering how on earth the story could keep going and going, but there was always a clever plot twist to stir things up again and leave the reader wanting to read on. I haven’t seen the film but I wonder how the whole story can be possibly cut down to the length of a film without losing part of the great story. I’m so glad that I stuck with this book and read it until the end.

Willful Creatures by Amiee Bender

This was a book of story stories. They were honestly the most bizarre stories that I have ever read. They were very surreal and made me re-think how a short story can be written. To show you what I mean, these were some of the outlines of the stories: a family of potatoes, who try not to be eaten, a boy who is born with keys as fingers and he has to find out what each of the keys opens and a man who keeps a small man locked up in a cage like a bird.

After reading most of the stories, I did have to wonder if I had read the story right and that I some how hadn’t misinterpreted it completely. The stories are brilliantly imaginative and entertaining.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

All of these stories had a strong religious tone to them, which I think probably says a lot about the background of the author. The first story in the collection is called “Brownies” which brought back a lot of memories for me because I also went to Brownies, when I was a child. Even though you would think that this story couldn’t have a religious tone to it, one of the leaders of the Brownie pack was overtly religious. I thought the stories were interesting: overall, I wasn’t completely bowled over by the collection as a whole.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

There are a lot of books of short stories on this list and this was another of them. The first part of the collection were stories exploring relationships between men and women and love. The story called “Unaccustomed Earth” is about a widower, who has found love with a new companion but decides not to tell his daughter because he wants to remain independent.

In the second part of the book, the three stories were related and told the story of two childhood friends, who, later in life, fall in love but decide not to pursue a relationship because she is already engaged to someone else. The ending is really sad. There weren’t many happy endings in any of the stories.

I have now read 25 out of the 40 and I am really enjoying this challenge.

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A weekend in Bucharest

11 Feb

I know that it seems as if I am constantly on holiday (and most people who know me tell me this on a regular basis) but this is all in aid of Challenge 2 on my 40 Before 40 – visit 40 countries in Europe. My trip to Romania means that I have now visited 28 countries in Europe.

Here are some of the things that we got up to on our long weekend in Romania.

First Impressions

Arriving when it is starting to get dark and trying to navigate yourself around an unfamiliar city is not one of my favourite activities. Large cities always look unwelcoming, dangerous and dirty at night. But it was clear that the Old Town was liveliest place to be in the evening, even if there were enough massage parlours to make you think that you might have ended up in Amsterdam by mistake.

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But during the day, the place was transformed with blue skies and busy streets. Some of the buildings are quite run down but the city has a certain charm to it and it is cleaner than a lot of Western European cities that I have visited. The influences of Communism can still be seen in the architecture and other parts of life.

Food and drink

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you might have trouble finding dishes to eat in Romania. The main ingredient in almost every dish seems to be meat, meat and meat. You can by huge mixed grill platters, slow-cooked pork knuckle and different sausages and stews. We were keen to try the local food and beer and even tried the local shots called palinca, which definitely warmed us up on a cold February morning.

We also tried mici, which are small sausages, as well as a cold meat platter which was excellent. There were quite a few dishes that I didn’t get to try because all of the food was so filling.

Free Walking Tour

It is second nature for us to find a free walking tour as soon as we arrive in a city that we were visiting. More than 75 people turned up for the tour and we were split into two groups. The guide that we had was one of the most entertaining guides I have ever had and the 2.5 hours we spent standing with the cold wind on our faces in various parts of the city flew by with his interesting spin on things. We learnt a lot of surprising things about the city, the history and what life was like under Communist rule. I still find it mind-blowing that people living not so far away from us were being suppressed by dictators during our lifetime. It doesn’t really seem possible.

Thermal spa

A friend recommended a thermal spa to us, as he had discovered it on his trip to Bucharest a few years previously. There were an awful lot of people there but it was a great experience. There was an indoor pool, where you can enjoy a cocktail or beer in the pool, an outdoor pool with jacuzzis, aromatherapy pools, massage beds and saunas. The disadvantage of so many people being there was that people were queuing for the saunas, so we didn’t wait for them. It was great fun but not really the type of spa that I had expected – people drinking, smoking (outside) etc.

The Romania Parliament Building

The Parliament in Romania is the second largest administration building in the world, after the Pentagon. We had heard that visitors are able to take tours inside on production of a passport or ID. When we arrived a security guard stopped us at the gate and said that the tours had been fully booked out. The tours are less frequent from now until June 2019 because Romania currently holds the presidency of the EU and the building is being used more frequently for meetings for EU specific topics. It was disappointing as there are not many parliament buildings that are open for the public to view but if I ever go back to Bucharest that will be the first thing on my list to do.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. It was relaxing, with plenty of walking and fresh air and some nice food and drink.

I have already planned my next trip to another European country – Poland in May. It seems like a long way off but it will give me some time to do some research so that we can maximise our time there.

Update on Challenge #8

7 Feb

For challenge 8 on my #40Before40 list, I am attempting to watch all of the Top 250 films of all time as listed on iMDB. I realised in November that I hadn’t watched any of  the films since September so I am getting back into my film watching to give me a fighting chance of completing this challenge.

Here are the films I have watched recently:

11. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

To be fair, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I’m a little bit confused about what the difference between an orc, a goblin, an elf and a hobbit but I have been able to work out who the good guy are.However, the other two films are also on the list and I will have to watch them as well. So I have time to work out who is whom.

30. Once Upon A Time in the West

Westerns really aren’t my thing. I think my day put me off watching them because they always used to be on the TV when we were growing up. It involves an mysterious harmonica-playing cowboy and I can still hear the haunting tune that he played in my head. It wasn’t awful but it just wasn’t my sort of film.

54. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

I have tried to watch this film before but failed miserably by falling asleep. I managed to say awake for the whole of the film and actually found it quite funny in parts. It’s the story of what happens when a nuclear war is triggered by mistake.

57. Grave of the Fireflies

This is a Japanese animated film. It’s another war film from the list and is about a brother and and sister who are separated from their parents during the war. It was a very heart warming story with an incredibly sad ending.

58. Paths of Glory

Set in World War I, this is a dramatisation of a court marshall of French soldiers because of cowardice. The commanding officer attempts to defend the soldiers and highlights the flawed tactics of his direct commander. It was an interesting story.

84. Double Indemnity

Insurance salesman falls in love with a clients wife and sets out to plot his death to claim on an accident insurance policy. I found it interesting that the film starts with the main character admitting that he had something to do with the death. The rest of the film is then an explanation of what happened leading up to the confession.

93. Singin’ in the Rain

I can’t make my mind up if I liked this film or not. I do generally like musicals so it isn’t that I don’t like the genre itself. The film hasn’t particularly aged well – a lot of the comments would be seen as sexism or discriminatory these dates, especially as the backdrop for the film is Hollywood movies.

135. On the Waterfront

This was a story about the mob trying to gain control of the waterfront and the underhand dealings that go along with that. I found the story hard to follow at first and the story didn’t keep my interest that much. There was a great fight scene in it though.

150. The Wolf of Wall Street

I genuinely thought this was just a remake of the original but it definitely isn’t. I didn’t watch this when it came out in the cinema because so many of my friends said that they didn’t like it. I thought it was ok and the story was so ridiculous that it was funny. I’m not sure I’d sit down and watch it again.

162. Fargo

The most incredible thing about this story is that it was based on a true story. When a kidnap plot goes wrong, murder and mayhem follow. I always like true stories and this was no except. I still can’t believe that it actually happened though but a great film and definitely worth a watch.

173. There Will Be Blood

A silver miner, who portrays himself as an honest family man, buys land from people at a pittance in order to drill for oil. As the title of the film suggests this doesn’t end well because a local priest realises what he is up to and a feud between the two develops and threatens the whole of the community. Daniel Day Lewis won one of his Oscars for this role and his performance is mesmorising.

199. Mad Max: Fury Road

It took me ages to work out what on earth was happening in this film. It’s set in some futuristic world in a desert, where people are controlled by a tyrant, until rebels try to break free. There isn’t a lot of dialogue but there is lots of action, with fight scene after fight scene.

215. Before Sunrise

Two strangers meet on a train and decide to spend the day together in Vienna. As I spent a few weeks in Vienna a few years ago it was nice to recognise some of the locations in the film. The film itself wasn’t as soppy as I thought that it would be; there was something innocent about two people agreeing to make a perfect memory of one day together.

217. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

I’ve read all of the Harry Potter books but I’ve only seen one or two of the films. I remember reading this book and being utterly terrified by it. Seeing the dramatic representation on screen was just as terrifying. None of the other Potter films are on the list so I would if the reason that this one makes the list is because of the computer graphics used. Either way, I really enjoyed it.

While I was reviewing the list of films that I am yet to see, I noticed that there were 3 that I have seen which I hadn’t noticed were on the list. I have seen Amélie (which I saw when Netflix sent the DVDs to your house – remember those days?), Donnie Darko (with the scary rabbit) and Monsters Inc. which I can probably recite line for line because I have seen it so many times before.

That means that my current total of films that I have seen from the list is 135, which means only 115 to go! Hurray!

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Winter Sun and Snow

4 Feb

Last week I did something I have never done before: I made the decision on Monday to fly on 6 days later to the sunny climbs of Tenerife. It’s not quite as extreme as waking up one morning, going to the airport and taking the next available flight but it felt like it to me because I’m normally so organised that my flights are booked more than 6 months in advance.

It was getting so cold here in Switzerland that I decided a few days in the sun would help to thaw out my bones and might even put some colour into my pale skin (but that was definitely a long shot!)

As my mum was already holidaying in Tenerife, I just had to get a bus from the airport and meet her just outside where she was staying. It was so much warmer there and I did get a few strange looks from people wearing my big winter coat, which I assure you I needed for the journey back.

We spent a lot of time walking, drinking in English bars and eating English food. It was great to relax and just enjoy life without any time pressures. We also visited La Caletta, which is a fishing village, and had a great fish and chips there.

All too soon it was time for me to come home, but not without some Chorizo sausage and olives as edible souvenirs.

Of course, I landed back to a very wintry and cold Switzerland. I did wonder if it was worth going for such a short space of time and now I feel like it’s even colder here than it was before I left. The 25+ degrees difference hasn’t been a very welcome gift but at least it looks pretty.

40 Before 40 – Challenge #35 update

27 Jan

Another one of my challenges is to read 40 non-fiction books. I don’t often read non-fiction as I prefer to get my teeth into a novel. However, I have noticed that I have accumulated a lot of (unread) non-fiction books on my shelf. This challenge will give me the opportunity to read some of the books that have been gathering dust and also to learn some new things.

So far I’ve read 10 books so 25% of the challenge is already completed. Here is a quick review of the books that I have read so far.

1. Marching Powder by Rusty Young

This is the story of the time a Brit spent in a Bolivian jail after getting caught while trying to smuggle a large amount of cocaine into the country. I heard about the book while I was in La Paz in Bolivia, while I was standing outside of the jail featured in the book. I always find it interesting to read about places that I have already busy and this had an added dimension because I had seen the jail from outside but thankfully not from the inside. The story itself was fascinating. It explained the prison system in Bolivia (you have to rent your cell from the authorities)

2. My Wimbledon Glory by Andy Murray

I chose to read this book after I realised that sports books and biographies are non-fiction – this could prove to be a life saver in this challenge. I thought this book gave an interest insight into the world of professional tennis. Of course, this was the story of the run-up to Murray’s historic Wimbledon win in 2013. It was a great read because it felt like I was re-reliving some of the previous tennis tournaments as I was reading.

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3. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I was so disappointed with the book and I would never have finished this if I had’ve chosen it for the challenge. I was really hoping that it would have been enlightening – the story is about how the author spent a year trying to improve her life and happiness. It was less of an epiphany and more of a bit of common sense written over pages and pages of boring drivel.

4. Be A Travel Writer, Live Your Dreams, Sell Your Features by Solange Hando

As I am hoping to launch my own travel website, this was a great book to give me some ideas about articles and about how to write them. This book was more aimed at writing articles for online and offline publications and how to pitch your ideas rather than writing for a blog or website. I will definitely be re-reading certain chapters of this book over the coming months when I continue making more preparations.

5. What’s Next Gen X? Keeping Up, Moving Ahead and Getting the Career You Want by Tamara J. Erikson

I was lent this book by my former boss. I have always been scpetical about the labelling of generations into Baby-Boomers, Millennials etc but this book was fascinating and I really felt that the advise was relevant to me. It gave me lots to think about, especially in regards to office dynamics and politics.

 

 

6. Roald Amundsen and the Exploration of the Northwestern Passage

This was a short book that I picked up when I visited the Fram Polar Ship Museum in Oslo. The museum itself was great and the book gives a detailed account of the exploration and the events that happened.

7. Feel the Fear but Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers

This was an interesting book. Basically, it tries to explain reasons why we are so fearful about change and suggest techniques to help us overcome these fears. Some of the examples in the book I could identify with and I think it will be useful to know the techniques and try and use them in the future. I did read some reviews to say that this book was solely aimed at women who had recently come out of relationships and were finding it hard to move on but I didn’t get this sense at all.

8. How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

I have had this book on my “to read” shelf for a long time. It was an interesting book about human psychology and the basic premise of the book is “be nice”. That’s so of it really. By being agreeable, people will want to spend more time with you or do business with you. It seems logical that people who are easy to get along with will have no problem finding friends. However, I wonder if you did follow all of the advice in this book if you would end up feeling very unsatisfied with life. You would just end up doing what other people want and forfeit a large part of your personality to get along with people. Having said that, I will follow some of the advice that the book gives, especially because some of the examples that were given did ring true to me and I think the advice could help me in some areas.

9. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

By far the worst part of this book is seeing the dates that the diary entries were made knowing that the hope of them being free isn’t going to happen. I was almost will them on to escape to freedom, despite me being aware of the outcome. The contrast between the musings of a teenage girl (complaining about classmates etc) and the description of the harsh conditions is mind blowing.

10. Every Second Counts by Lance Armstrong

It was interesting to read this book as it was written before it was revealed that Armstrong was not the clean athlete that he always claimed to be. The thing that annoyed me most was that throughout the whole book he was protesting his innocence with regards to doping – for me there is a clear distinction between someone saying they are innocence and writing a book which people used their hard earned cash to buy. I really think that it rubs salt into the wound. I also thought that the tone of the book was very arrogant and I became very irritated by the constant name dropping.

Book Challenge by Erin 10.0

23 Jan

As you may know at the end of last year, I discovered an online reading challenge on Facebook. The group is run by Erin (hence, the name). The challenge is very easy. There are 10 different categories and you have to read a book from each category to complete it.

As I have a lot of free time on my hands at the moment, I managed to finish the challenge in 21 days – yes, 10 books in 21 days. I surprised myself. I’ve been motivated by reading 68 books last year and I would like to better it this year if that is possible. Obviously, I have given myself a great start to the year.

Here are the categories and the books that I read for the challenge:

Freebie (any book that is more than 200 pages long) – How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carniege

I decided to read a non-fiction book for this category. I have had this book on my “to read” shelf for a long time. It was an interesting book about human psychology and the basic premise of the book is “be nice”. That’s so of it really. By being agreeable, people will want to spend more time with you or do business with you. It seems logical that people who are easy to get along with will have no problem finding friends. However, I wonder if you did follow all of the advice in this book if you would end up feeling very unsatisfied with life. You would just end up doing what other people want and forfeit a large part of your personality to get along with people. Having said that, I will follow some of the advice that the book gives, especially because some of the examples that were given did ring true to me and I think the advice could help me in some areas.

Book that was turned into a Movie – Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

This was a long book (my edition was 884 pages long) but was a great read. Set during the American Civil War, it is essentially a story of love and loss, focused on the main character Scarlett O’Hara. Throughout the book, I was wondering how on earth the story could keep going and going, but there was always a clever plot twist to stir things up again and leave the reader wanting to read on. I haven’t seen the film but I wonder how the whole story can be possibly cut down to the length of a film without losing part of the great story. I’m so glad that I stuck with this book and read it until the end.

Set in Europe – The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

So many people have been talking about this book recently that I thought I just had to read it. At times it was an unpleasant reminder about the horrors of Nazi Germany but there was also a huge sense of hope and love. I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who wants to read it by revealing what happened but it is well-written and poignant. I would recommend that you give it a read as well.

A Newberry Award Winner – Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

I read this children’s book in a few hours. It was a lovely story about Wilbur the pig and his friend, Charlotte, who is a very clever spider. This book was popular when I was growing up but I never read it. I was glad that I did. It is a story about relationships and how working together can help improve everyone’s lives. The ending was sad but in a nice way.

A Friend’s Favourite – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I was a bit sceptical about the book when I first started reading it. It took a while to get my head around the structure of the novel and the reasons for that structure. The book is six stories, spanning different eras woven into one. Each of the stories has a connection to the previous one. The stories were so different, not only in terms of narrative voice but also in the format; one was a diary, one was an interview etc. It showed a vast amount of skills to write with such complexity and authenticity. I enjoyed some of the stories more than others but overall it was a great read.

Written over 100 years ago – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I had no idea that this book was based, at least partly, in Switzerland and that it is nothing like the Frankenstein monster horror story that have come out of Hollywood. It is a poignant story about human interaction and the need to be accepted in society. The figure of “the monster” is a lonely, misunderstood figure, who has had no part in his design or creation, and tries to take revenge on his creator after he refuses to help him find happiness.

Title with 6 Words – The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Another book from the Nazi Germany era. The worst part of this book is seeing the dates that the diary entries were made knowing that the hope of them being free isn’t going to happen. The contrast between the musings of a teenage girl (complaining about classmates etc) and the description of the harsh conditions is mind blowing.

Cardinal direction in the title – East, West by Salman Rushdie

This was a collection of 9 short stories. I really liked how the narrative of each of the stories was so different and the subject matter was so varied. A lot of the stories made me quite reflective about life. I haven’t read any of Rushdie’s book before but I am going to make an effort to do so in the future. This was a good introduction into how well he writes.

Originally in another language – The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende (Spanish)

This was a joy to read. It’s the story of four generations of an eccentric family in Chile and charts the tragedy, hilarity and surreality of their lives in an ever-changing world. One minute I was laughing out loud, the next silent in shock at the events that were unfolding in the story. I would go as far to say that this was one of my favourite books that I have ever read. This was another long read but I doubt it will be long before I am re-reading it once again.

Begins with the letter N – Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Surprisingly, in this book the narrator is a unborn foetus, who is overhearing the destruction of his parents’ marriage and his mother’s subsequent relationship with his uncle. It was fascinating to read – the narrator can’t see everything that happens in the story but tries to infer all the details from his experience and from other senses. As with all McEwan novels, there is a sinister twist to the story and the foetus attempts to interfere with events that are happening around him.

There will now be a bonus round, where I have the opportunity to read another 10 books, but that part of the challenge doesn’t start until 1st February. In the meantime, I will have to find some other books to get stuck into!

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Brexit Boredom

21 Jan

I suspect that I am not the only one who is bored of the ongoing rumblings about Brexit. But living abroad makes it so much harder.

When people find out that I am British, the first thing they ask is what is going to happen with Brexit – as if I somehow have already been briefed about how everything is going to be resolved. I also get greeted with spontaneous outbursts of laughter or wry shakes of the head. It’s all very worrying. What is more worrying is that I can’t even escape the whole sorry affair by watching Swiss or German TV because they are reporting on it as well (in complete disbelief about what’s happening).

Boredom is only one part of my problem though. Since the dreaded vote I have been constantly worrying about what is going to happen to my rights to stay in Switzerland. Although Switzerland isn’t in the EU, it clearly states on my resident’s permit that I was granted the right to live and work in Switzerland because of my EU nationality. It is a lot, lot harder to get a job here if you are a non-EU national.

Would I be packed off on a plane back to Blighty on 30th March by an very apologetic Swiss official? Would I have to do something to prove that I really should stay here, like compete in the next series of Ninja Warrior Switzerland, or prove that I can yodel as well as a native? For these and many other burning questions, I went to a talk for British Nationals living and working in Switzerland which was organised by the British Embassy in Bern.

I was glad I went and not just for the free glass of wine! The talk was really informative and put my mind at easy about a lot of things that I have wondering about. The best news what that the rights that we have accumulated so far will not be taken away from us. It sounds like business as usual and the proposals are due to be ratified by the Swiss Parliament in the next few weeks. So, although the Brexit process for leaving the EU does seem in turmoil, at least the bilateral agreements that will mean my life will have little disruption are almost all sorted. (I know I sound selfish, especially as so many Brits in EU countries are yet to be given guarantees and assurances and for that I am sorry!)

I was surprised about some of the questions that were asked at the event to the panel. People seemed to be more concerned about still being able to go over the border with a Swiss driving licence to go and get cheaper shopping in Germany and which queue we need to get in at passport control after the Brexit date. However, some of the questions, like would British children lose their rights to live in Switzerland if they attended a British university, had a more serious note and had very complex answers. Depending on what residents’ permit you have, depends on how long you can leave the country for before you lose your rights to residency.

I’m glad my life isn’t so complicated and I can carry on as normal (or as normal as can be). However, my boredom for Brexit continues, just as the news reports do every day that no progress has been made and there are more and more arguments over this point or that point. So, please don’t ask me what’s going to happen on 29th March because you will be greeted with a yawn and a disinterested sigh.

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